You’ve spoken to your banker, perhaps taken a course on export basics and ticked off all the boxes highlighting that you’re ready to take your business to the next level. It’s time to build an export plan.

An export plan is a document that helps you assess the potential benefits and risks to your business when selling internationally. It clearly defines the market you’ll target, your specific sales goals and the overall approach you’ll take to achieve those goals.

The document doesn’t need to be long—a few pages are sufficient—but the information it captures is extremely important. Not only will it guide the efforts of your entire team, it’ll also clearly communicate your plan to people outside the company who you may turn to for help along the way.

For example, if you’re hoping to get financing from your bank or apply to one of Canada’s many government programs for exporters, a good export plan is a must. It gives you credibility and demonstrates your commitment and due diligence. 

Identifying your target market

While your export plan includes a variety of information about financing, marketing, logistics, competition and more, your first consideration should be identifying the target market you believe offers you the best chance to succeed. How will you know which country fits the bill?  There could be many indicators. For example, you may have received a lot of inquiries about your products from a particular country, or you may already be selling indirectly to a specific international market through a partner.

In my experience, while you may think that exporting to multiple countries offers a greater chance of success, it’s best to focus on one country initially and do it well. Even a company as enormously successful as Apple took this approach when it began selling their first smartphone in 2007. The device was initially released in the United States and only after several months of strong sales, did the technology giant roll it out to various countries in Europe, Asia and beyond. 

Putting your plan together

With your target market identified, it’s time to learn as much as you can about it. What are the key economic indicators and risks? Is there demand for your products and services there? If so, are your competitors already achieving success there?

EDC is a valuable resource for information and assistance. In our Country Risk Quarterly, EDC trade experts provide in-depth trade profiles for more than 100 countries around the globe, including a risk rating for each country and EDC’s position on exporting there. EDC also provides a Global Export Forecast, which helps you assess opportunities internationally in specific sectors. And let’s not forget our webinars, which are also available on demand.

Other key information that should be covered in your export plan includes:

  • Products: Do my products or services fill a need in the target market? Are any modifications required?
  • Pricing: How much does it cost to get my products to market? What is my pricing strategy?
  • Marketing and promotion: Are marketing and promotion needed to improve my website? What tactics should I use to build awareness? Are there events I should be attending in the target market?
  • Financial capacity: How much money will I need to commit to meet my export objectives? What sources of export financing are available?
  • Production capacity: Does my company have enough capacity to meet the demand of my target market? How much will it cost to produce additional products for this market?

Reviewing the plan and closing the gaps

When you’ve got a draft plan in place, you’ll want to review it with your company stakeholders to make sure you’ve addressed any gaps. The export plan is a living document, which means you continue to update and improve it as you gather more information. Here are some other excellent resources to help you build and refine your export plan:

Need additional guidance?

The Trade Accelerator Program (TAP) helps small- and medium-sized enterprises define a growth strategy, identify and analyze their target market and build an export plan. The knowledge you’ll gain and the contacts you’ll meet will help you overcome export barriers and reach new markets faster.